Category Archives: survivor

Fighting The Battle Against Suicide

The post below may be triggering for some. I blatantly discuss suicide and my own brushes with it as well as the recent news of the loss of Robin Williams. If you are fragile, you’ll want to skip this post. If you need to find some happy, go watch this video. It’s all of the awesome and then some.

The sun floated above the house in a swath of the kind of blue sky I long to see when I wake in the morning. The wind played with the trees, swishing the leaves and branches to and fro as birds and butterflies danced along with the melody Mother Nature played for them.

I stood in my bedroom, staring out at the phenomenal glory just beyond my physical reach and well beyond my comprehension. I stepped closer to the open window, staring down at the retaining wall at the edge of the house, calculating the angle necessary to hit it with my head. As my fingers brushed against the roughness of the screen, I drew back suddenly, as if I had been shocked into reality. I scurried downstairs, to a room well away from the retaining wall, and texted with a friend until the thoughts faded away.

I was not interested in beauty that day.  I was interested, suddenly, as I stood in my bedroom all alone, in leaving this world.

My divorce was final. I was no longer with my children. I could not find a job. Nothing seemed to be going my way. There was no sense in continuing with things. It was not the first time I felt like ending things and it turned out to not be the last. I dance with these thoughts from time to time but thankfully, so far, I have managed to fight them off. Believe me, the battle to fight them off is FAR HARDER than anyone who has never experienced them could possibly imagine. Sometimes, it is a daily battle. Some days, it is an hourly battle. Then finally, sleep, only to wake up and battle all over again. But I fight because my will to live is powerful and I am not done with my work here yet. I fight because my kids deserve a mother they can reach out and touch or talk to on the phone. I fight because I matter, I love, and I am loved.

There has been a lot of discussion this past week about suicide. The causes, the loss, how to cope, how to survive, and most of all, the matter of making the choice to go through with it.

Is suicide a choice?

Yes.

It is an easy choice?

Hell no.

If you wade through research, the average amount of time it takes from initiation of “I’m really going to do this” to completion is 10 minutes. I wish I had the link to this research but unfortunately, I don’t. (But there is this article you can read which references it.)

10 minutes to save someone’s life.

10 minutes to convince them they matter. That they are bigger than whatever demon is swelling inside of them and convincing them they are better off on the other side.

10.fricking.minutes.

In the grand scheme of life, 10 minutes is but a millisecond, but it is a millisecond with a number of chaotic screaming thoughts flooding your brain in an attempt to convince you to stop the life you know because it has toppled over and there is no other way to fix things.

In those 10 minutes:

It is not a matter of joy.

It is not a matter of prayer or faith.

It is not a matter of therapy.

It is not a matter of medication.

It is not a matter of love.

It is not a matter of religion, resources, and whatever the hell else you want to throw out there as a simple answer to the complexity that is suicide which is, frankly, a sandbox full of all the demons you have ever carried at any point in your life fighting each other for ownership of your soul.

In the throes of the “choice of suicide”, it is all about YOU and that huge ass demon screaming at you that yes, you are better off on the other side as it hacks away at any sense of self-respect, faith, or common sense you previously possessed. The bastard wears you down until finally, there is only one way out.

We all know the story of David and Goliath. It’s like that only sometimes, David doesn’t win.

It’s like Frodo vs. Sauron but all on his own.

It’s like Picard vs. the Borg all by himself. (And we saw how that ended – Locutus!)

I wrote an off-the-cuff status update on Facebook about the passing of Robin Williams. At last check, it had been shared over 200 times. Here’s what I said:

“I want to take a minute (or more) of your time to say something important.

Suicide is scary. It frightens us, particularly those of us who are vulnerable and know these thoughts intimately. These thoughts dance with us and sometimes have done so on a daily basis.

For people who know suicide intimately and have contemplated it, news like the passing of Robin Williams can be very triggering. It causes us to wonder how on earth we will survive if he didn’t make it. He had money. Access to care. He had just been in rehab. Dear Lord. If he couldn’t get better, what hope do “we” have?

Here’s the thing. Choose life. Choose to reach out. Choose light. Choose to fight. Every time you reach out for help, you are choosing to survive. It’s about creating opportunities for hope instead of succumbing to the darkness.

Unfortunately, we don’t know why he chose to leave us, but he did. And we’re left wondering what went wrong.

So if you want to honor his life, honor his time here, take from his death what you can and make it okay to discuss suicidal feelings. Because until mental health is a normal part of every day discussions, we will continue to be shocked when something like this happens, claiming we “had no idea.”

Know this.

There is hope. There is help. And if you are struggling, there are hotlines you can call. Things you can do. Start by reaching out to a friend, then a professional, and stay the course, even when the light fades. It will return.”

I have never had anything shared that much on Facebook before. The comments on the shares are tremendous – people are talking about mental health. But most of all, they are scared.

Because if Robin Williams, a man who had access to it all, committed suicide, then what hope do *we* have in surviving when we don’t have the access to care he did?

I questioned whether or not I should write about this here. I am not writing for page views. I am not writing to take advantage of a horrible situation. I am writing because until we make mental health check ins with each other part of normal, everyday conversation, things like this will ALWAYS shock us. Until we make mental health as normal as physical health, it will always be stigmatized, it will always be taboo, and it will always scare the shit out of us.

My heart has been heavy this week, along with millions of others. Not for the loss of Robin, but for HOW we lost him. I know that pain. I know what those moments of absolute desperation feel like as they strike terror into your very soul. Watching your body and hands go through the motions as your brain screams NO and questions your sanity but you are helpless to stop yourself. I’ve blogged about it before – here, here, and here. The second and third posts references the situation I used to open this post. There have been other times too, times in the car where I wondered what would happen if I just let go of the wheel and let myself drift into oncoming traffic – or into a tree. It’s been awhile since I have fought with these thoughts but the shadows of them are always there, lurking, waiting to spring forth and attack when the darkness threatens to swallow me.

That weight, the weight of sheer terror, isolation, and helplessness, is what spurs me to do what I do – to reach out to mothers struggling with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. No mother, hell, no human, should ever surf the tides of mental health alone.

So how do we change things? How do we make suicide less of a threat to ourselves and to those we love?

I wish I had the answer to that question. I have some answers, but not THE answer. No one does. All we have are suggestions.

We talk about our struggles, we don’t cover it up in polite speech or hide it in dark rooms and beneath whispers or under judgmental tones. We stop sensationalizing the horrors and instead write mindfully about the issue at hand. Let’s start there.

Suicide is not something we should dismiss. It is not something we cover up, and it is not solved by choosing joy, reaching out, or praying harder. It goes far deeper than any of that for it is insidious, tenuous, and a gut-sucking leech upon the soul of many of us who have walked this earth. Our lives, all of them, sooner or later, will be touched by suicide – someone we know, a friend’s friend, or our own. Is that acceptable? Hell no. Can we change it? Hell yes.

Baby steps.

Start here, with how to talk to a friend or a loved one about suicide. Carry resources and hotline numbers in your wallet or program them into your phone. Know the signs. Run toward the chaos and the danger instead of huddling away from it. Bring suicide into the light. Make it okay to not be okay. Not cool, but okay. Let them know you hear their pain, you acknowledge their hurt, and do what you can to encourage them to seek help. Don’t judge them. Don’t act shocked. Be compassionate. Be patient. Be understanding. Don’t justify their desire to end it but instead, talk to them about their reasons to live. Be their speck of light, as my good friend and amazing blogger John states in his own post about depression and cancer. Be the warm blanket they need to survive. Be the hope for them until they can be their own hope.

Will we still lose people?

Yes.

But those we save through our own daring to speak up may just be the ones to ultimately change the world. And in the process, we are already changing the world because we’re breaking the stigma of silence around suicide.

And that, my friends, makes the hell worth fighting through.

Guest Post: On Meeting An Angel

PP Blogathon BlingToday’s post in celebration of Katherine Stone is brought to you by Deborah Forhan Rimmler, a member of the board of Postpartum Progress. There’s no intro to do it justice so I’ll just let you read.

I’m always curious about where God might pop up.  You see, I’m the kind of girl who finds a connection to the Divine in random places—a quiet snuggle with my boys, when my husband loves me even when I’m being a jerk, a long bike ride, my dear aunt’s funeral.  You get the point.

Five years ago I was struck with horrible postpartum OCD, the soul stealing kind where you have visions of hurting your own baby.  Even then, I was still lucky.  I had a swanky doula, got a great psychiatrist and slowly got better.  Still, there was this huge gaping hole in my heart that only I knew was there.  I swear you could see all the way to infinity and back that hole was so big.  I was sure I would never really be happy again or be joyful as mother because this terrible experience haunted me.  I put on brave face. I cared for and played with my baby.  I prayed, tried to meditate, did yoga, and watched chick flicks. I did all my happy things.  Only it was still there.  That big gaping hole of fear and sadness over this experience.

Then I met an angel—the working class kind, which in my opinion is the very best type.  You see, she is one of us.  A human with no special wings or privity with God’s plans for the universe.  She was just a very brave mother who had dared to share her story with the world about how she, too, had these intrusive thoughts about hurting her baby boy.  And I mean the whole world—she put in on a blog!  She just put it out there in a matter-of-fact way about how postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis are simply treatable diseases.  And she got other women to share their stories on her blog.  And she gave up her lucrative marketing career, at a significant financial cost to her family, to build this blog day after day.  For. Ten. Years.

Every story was just as beautiful and brave as the one before.  And in these stories there was a divine truth that healed my draining soul.  We women are not alone, and it is not our fault we got sick.  I even felt God’s love for me, my sick brain, and all the other suffering mothers past and present in the community of these stories.  And the gaping hole in my heart and soul got plugged with the honesty and bravery of these women sharing their truth.  And one day I started to feel happy again.  Full of hope for my life as a mother.

Thank you, Katherine Stone, for being that angel.  Day after day you shine the light of goodness and grace on the dark side of motherhood helping to piece our broken hearts back together.  And when that light sparks a sad, tired soul and starts to help it heal, you give the gift that only a true angel can give:  Hope.

Bless you my darling friend and congratulations on the Ten Year Anniversary of Postpartum Progress!

Rimmler Family 09 051Deborah is a postpartum OCD survivor and on the board of Postpartum Progress, Inc.  She is a corporate attorney and lives with her husband and two sons in Western Massachusetts.

When the Awareness Month Ends

Where does the awareness go?

Does it get tossed in the trashcan? Do we save it and recycle it for next year’s shindig?

Or do we raise the banner and keep it waving for the entire year?

Awareness months are fabulous things.

But there’s a fault with them – they last only 28, 30, or 31 days.

Everything has an awareness month these days, it seems. We are all screaming about them from the social media rooftops. Pay attention to this, do that, say this, share that, use this hashtag, find this picture on Instagram, enter this, like this, donate here, etc.

It can all lead so very quickly to donor fatigue or the inability to comprehend anything regarding any of the topics we are supposed to give our all to because well, it’s the topic du mois.

Do you go home when it’s the first of the next month?

Or are you still there, in the stands, in the midst of the mess, yelling at anyone who will listen that this is something we should still give a damn about?

We need people who will stay and fight. People who will give their all for more than 28, 30, or 31 days. The people who scream and shout even when there’s nothing left – the people who sacrifice their entire heart and soul to save those around them – those are the people who make the difference. THOSE are the people I want to surround myself with as I move forward in life.

We all matter. Do we need to be ramped up even when it’s not THE MONTH for our cause? Yes and no. Advocacy is a shout in the sunshine but it’s also a quiet whisper in the dark. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing your story. Other times, it’s far more complex and exhausting.

Whatever the form your advocacy takes, don’t drop it just because it’s no longer the right month.

Carry that flag with you throughout the year. Hold your head high, be a shining example and move others toward your cause by exemplifying the type of person you are inside – a fierce warrior capable of surviving anything life may throw your way.

NIMH Gets Failing Grade for Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder Chat

Last week, a friend of mine tagged me in a link on FB to give me a heads up about a NIMH chat this week about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Of course we were looking forward to it and hoping it would be a worthwhile discussion. I nearly missed it on Friday morning (May 16, 2014)  thanks to a nasty case of food poisoning which knocked me off my feet for the better part of this week. But, I managed to dive in just 10 minutes into the chat.

It was…….awful.

Stilted.

Non-engaging.

Spouting of facts and just the facts, according to the NIMH. (They managed to screw up a few things. Don’t worry, I’ll go there. Oh, yes, yes I will.)

Self-promotion and only self-promotion. No real response to the powerful Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Advocates who showed up until we started really pushing back. Even then, their response was still stilted.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, the NIMH began repeating tweets from the beginning of the chat instead of answering the flurry of questions coming in from those participating.

If NIMH handed this chat in as a graded project, it would have received an F.

When I asked what was being done to encourage medical professionals to become better educated about PMAD’s, this happened:

NIMHChat Congress

Yep.

Congress MANDATED we pay more attention to PMAD’s. In fact, it got shoved in with the ACA. And we all know how well that’s going. After this response, I asked a follow up question asking how that was going – asked for hard numbers. Did I get numbers? Nope. BECAUSE THE ATTENTION MANDATED BY CONGRESS LACKS FUNDING AND THEREFORE ATTENTION.

I’m okay, I’m okay. *deep breath*

There was also this lovely moment in chat:

NIMHChat Snafu

I know, right?

Because we ALL got better by staying in bed thanks to depression, right? Right?

Instead of urging moms to get up, move, and care for themselves, the NIMH  provides them with excuses to stay in bed and well, suffer. Way to go, NIMH. WAY.TO.GO. *slow claps*

While I realize it is difficult to manage a large scale chat with several participants (something I have done myself, when #PPDChat was very well attended), there is absolutely no excuse for the following to happen during your chat:

1) Blatantly state misinformation/misleading facts about your topic. Particularly if said topic is subject to entrenched stigma and misinformation (which is why you are having the chat to begin with, right? Not because it’s a hot topic and you’re using it to draw people in…)

2) Not engage those who are participating – this is SOCIAL media, y’all. SOCIAL. ENGAGE. Like Jean Luc Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even if you’re just going at impulse speed, ENGAGE for the love of ALL that is..well, you know.

3) Don’t repeat yourself word for word. It lets people know you’re unprepared.

4) Share resources other than your own. (see number 2 about social media).

5) Do NOT TREAT those participating with disdain, contempt, or as if they are idiots. They are attending your event which would be nothing without participants. Respond accordingly unless they are clearly bashing you (which we were not) and if they are bashing you, ignore them before you stoop to the level of responding with disdain.
Things to do during a Twitter chat:

1) Engage. Be Social. Greet people. Be happy and upbeat. SMILE through your keyboard.

2) Be knowledgeable and approachable.

3) Treat everyone as if they are your equal. They are there to learn, not to be kicked. Acknowledge their words, their struggle, their questions with the same respect you expect from them. You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

4) Offer insight through connections and share resources from others in addition to your own. The only answer is not yours. Crowd-source and use the media at hand to enhance your chat.

5) Do your best to make everyone be heard, even if it’s through just RT’ing what they’ve said. Again, I realize this is difficult on a LARGE scale but if you have known experts participating, acknowledge them.

I truly hate when things like this go wrong because there is such a tremendous opportunity for exposure when a government agency holds a chat like this. I want to say I’m surprised at how things went but sadly, I am not. Instead of raising awareness and building hope, NIMH decimated the chat with a lot of tweets about nothing, leaving at least one person (and possibly more) with the idea that there is in fact, nothing a mother can do to prevent a PMAD:

NIMHChat PPD cause

And that, dear friends, is NOT the taste you want to leave in the public’s mouth when discussing PMAD’s. Because there is hope. There is help. We are not alone.

Go to Postpartum Progress to find women who are fighting back.

Or Postpartum Stress Center’s website.

Or Beyond Postpartum.

Or find me on Twitter @unxpctdblessing. Or search the hashtag #PPDChat. Message me for the private FB group full of women who KNOW this is hell and yet are fighting back against it with everything they have.

We’re all here for you when you’re ready to reach out for help.

(And THAT is how you end a chat about Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders).

*drops mic and hits publish*

If Postpartum Mamas Banned Bossy

“Shhhhhhh. Don’t talk too loudly and don’t let anyone hear you.” the woman whispered as they chatted in the vestibule at church. Her companion had just expressed concern about a young new mother in the congregation who looked a bit exhausted that morning as she wrestled with her six week old and two year old toddler.

She patted her grey curls and adjusted her purse as she glanced around and leaned in to speak. “Don’t say anything but I heard from Ethel that she’s struggling with…” she lowered her voice to barely a whisper “that postpartum depression stuff.”

Her companion gasped and put her gloved hand over her mouth.

“No… not that. Why, in our day, we didn’t have that sort of thing. We just made do. These new age mamas and their excuses not to do the work mothering requires of them. Why it just makes me so angr…” Susan wagged her finger in front of her mouth as the bedraggled topic of their gossip approached.

“Well, hello there, Beth! Just how are things with you these days? And ohhhh… look at the new little one! Isn’t she just precious?” Beth sighed, glanced at the baby then back at Susan. She forced a smile and said “Just fine, come on, Ethan. Let’s go find Daddy.” As they started to walk off, Susan made a knowing eye contact with Joan, motioning after Beth, as if to say “I told you so.”

They stood there for a few more minutes, dissecting every aspect of Beth’s behaviour, dress, and choice of clothing for her children but not once did they discuss how they could help Beth as she learned how to navigate her way through this brand new motherhood of two children. Instead, they simply stood aghast and whispering at her apparent failure, ignoring all the signs that something was amiss.

Sadly, this still happens to many mothers. We are judged. Discussed. Analyzed. Dismissed. All because so many fail to discuss what is actually going on inside our heads. Because not enough of us get BOSSY about it.

What if, when Beth finally heals, she grabs the bull by the horns and starts a support group at her church? What if she dares to get up in front of the congregation and admits to her experience and educates those sitting there? What if she dares them to do more for new mothers and therefore changes the lives of new mothers touched by this church? But if we ban bossy, the Beths of the world won’t do this because well, they’ll be sitting down and not doing anything to blaze a path because SHHHHHHH. We dare not be bossy.

If I had not been bossy with my maternal medical care, things would have gone unnoticed. Hell, even though I was bossy the first time, I still went untreated because I was seen as “wrong” even though I knew myself better than anyone else. My “bossy” hormones should have slid magically back into place at four weeks postpartum so it wasn’t possible for me to have PPD. Shame on me for daring to say anything about not feeling well and daring to expect the doctor to actually, oh, I don’t know, DO SOMETHING. I slinked away, disappointed at not receiving help and resolving to stand up for myself down the road if necessary even if it hadn’t gotten me anywhere the first time around.

I got bossy the second time around too after my docs scheduled me for an induction WITHOUT MY CONSENT after noting that my first baby had been “big” at birth (she was 8lbs 3oz, thank you very much.)

What would happen to women, to all the progress we have made in the birthing world – hell, in the postpartum world, if we banned bossy?

There would be no Katherine Stone.

There would be no #PPDChat.

There would be no ample supply of kick ass doulas.

There wouldn’t be a chorus of PPD advocates or breastfeeding or formula feeding advocates. Or Attachment Parenting advocates. Or…. do I really need to go on?

What about NICU Parents? Where the hell would they AND THEIR CHILDREN be without the bossy trait?

Bossy is necessary.

Bossy saves lives.

Banning bossy is akin to telling someone to sit down, shut the eff up, and take whatever life shoves their way. Maybe that’s not what this campaign is about, maybe it’s about taking charge and finding a more positive way to spin it but dammit, no one gets to tell me what word to use to describe myself.

Words are powerful things. They incite strength, they spark revolutions, they can make us cower or they can give us power. But the beauty of words is that WE get to decide what they mean to us, not those who are spewing them at us. We define them. We can take them and twist them into the most beautiful and amazing things ever seen by mankind. It is up to us to choose how to process that which is spoken to us, about us, by us, and for us.

No one should ever put bossy in the corner.

No one.

Instead, we should grab it by the hand, drag it out to the dance floor, and flaunt that baby like there’s no tomorrow. Own it as if we are in the spotlight with Patrick Swayze himself, getting ready to dive off the stage into his arms.

The idea that we are to ban this word to encourage young girls not to be afraid of being “leaders” scares me.

Are we really empowering girls by doing so or are we further protecting them from the big bad world out there waiting to swallow them whole? Bossy gets you places. Bossy starts inside, it drives us forward, and it ENABLES us to be leaders. Not the other way around. If we ban bossy instead of embracing bossy, we are further shaming the word and the attitude. Hell, motherhood alone requires a certain level of bossy, does it not? As does fatherhood.

I am bossy.

I am not afraid to say no.

I am not afraid to stand up for my beliefs. I am not afraid to stand up for others and the rights they have. I am not afraid to tell someone “No, that’s not right. This is the truth, and you need to listen to it.” I am not afraid to protect and defend mothers who suffer from Perinatal Mood Disorders.

I will be bossy about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders until the day I die.

No social media campaign (or anything else for that matter) will ever change that.

Let’s not ban bossy.

Let’s make some noise…and make some history while we’re at it.

Because “well-behaved women seldom make history” yanno.

Here’s to all of us bossy women – rocking the world, taking names, and kicking ass.

Stay bossy forever.

A Different Breed

She sighs, in the dark, as her baby snuggles closer to her neck, his chubby fists opening and closing as he exhales and relaxes his body with a small whimper. She waits, supporting him, waiting for that moment when the weight of sleep brings a random tingle or two to her forearm. Stands up slowly, using muscles in her thighs to lift her upper body as she does so, careful to not a muscle touching her now sleeping infant. Eyes flutter shut as she puts one foot in front of the other, heading for the crib. Baby shifts, stutter sighs, and moves, nuzzling further into her neck. She moves her hand to the back of his head, rubbing it softly as she hums their song.

She manages to lay him down and leave the room. As she crawls into bed, her calves sink into the mattress first, then the exhaustion surges upward until her eyes slam shut until morning, all of an hour and a half away when she will wake up to a hungry baby, a dog with a full bladder, and a toddler who has probably strewn cheerios over half the house because she needed to feed the dog.

Motherhood.

It changes us.

Mentally.

Physically.

For some, motherhood is a warm field on a sunny day filled with laughter, babbling brooks, playful deer, and an intoxicating joy.

For others, motherhood is a dark room in the bottom of the keep, covered with bars, the key well beyond our reach. We fight, we scream, we rage against the thick door but it won’t budge. We see the warm field in the sun from the window a the top of our room and long for it – long to talk walks with our little ones as the sun beats down upon our faces and a smile spreads across our face but instead, we are trapped inside our own special hell.

Motherhood without a mental illness is not the easiest road to tread, either. Heck, life in general requires some level of tenacity. One of the most frustrating things I am faced with is not discounting the struggles that each of us go through – respecting the journey of every single mother without demeaning the journey of another. And yet, it’s my goal.

Over the past several years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most amazing and resilient parents. Parents who fight for themselves, for their children, for their relationships, for life. Parents who work through even deeper hells than I can even imagine and still manage to parent their kids, all the while, worrying about how their experience will affect their kids, their marriage, their jobs, their lives. Yet, every morning, they wake, get out of bed, and take another step forward toward healing, even if they are absolutely exhausted.

A friend of mine posted on FB a quip about hockey players being a different breed. He was commenting on Rich Peverly’s alleged desire to get back into the game despite having experienced a cardiac event on the bench. Any other sport and the player wouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the game, right?

The same is true of mothers battling against mental illness, whatever form it may take for them. We want to get back in the game. We want to play, we want to laugh. We want to be free to just…be…without the burden or restraint of our mental health on our souls. This is why we cherish the good days and wade through the bad ones. Why we hold on so tightly to every single glimmer of hope crossing our hearts.

We are a different breed.

We aren’t worse.

We aren’t better.

We’re just different and we want to be loved for who we are, not what you think we should be or could be.

We just are.

Love us anyway?

Owning My Pain

I had goals for today. They were sidetracked by housework which left me in a tremendous amount of pain. Then I discovered our ISP has some speed issues so instead of sitting down and resting or going to the gym to soak in the hot tub, I pushed myself to get things done and be ready for a tech to show up at any moment.

Of course, the tech did not show up until nearly 5pm.

I stood the entire time he was here, nearly 10 minutes, holding back tears the entire time. And then, I forced myself upstairs where I collapsed on the bed and proceeded to fold laundry. Why? Because folding laundry made me forget about the pain – it distracted me from the intense fire in my lower back. That’s how J found me when he arrived home not much after I sat down. He walked through our bedroom door, asked me how I was and all I could do was look at him with absolute pain and tears in my eyes.

He sprang into motion, put a SalonPas patch on my lower back and fixed me a drink. Then he helped me finish laundry, chiding me for twisting and lifting the laundry basket. He tucked me into bed, nudging pillows behind me and making sure I was properly supported. After awhile, (and after some Aleve finally), I fell asleep.

I’m sitting on the couch downstairs now and as long as I don’t move, I’m okay. Tomorrow is a new day and even if I have to crawl into the gym, I’m going to go sit in the hot tub.

I struggle with my emotions on days like today. I am stubborn and tend to push through pain. I do not accept “failure” well. This, this not being able to function as I should, is failure. Intellectually I know it is not but it feels like it. I live with a standard level of pain every day so when that pain level surges and affects me like this, it is incredibly difficult to deal with. I handle depression or mental health issues far better than this sort of thing. I know how to deal with those. I can still move around. But when this happens and I am relegated to bed? Just ugh.

Earlier this evening, as we were folding laundry together, I focused on the fact that we were together. I also focused on the sunset outside. It was gorgeous – a phenomenal combination of oranges, yellows, greys, and pinks which slid into vibrant purples, dark blues, and specks of magenta. Certainly one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in awhile and because of this intense pain, I had a front row seat.

It is a fight to focus on the positive instead of the pain so when I manage to do so, it is quite a victory. I talk myself into holding on until the next day, convincing myself I will feel better then which is usually the case…or at least has been thus far. I may need to take it easier than usual but I make it through.

The same holds true today. I just need to make it to bedtime. In the morning, a brand new (and better) day begins. Tomorrow, I will own the pain instead of the pain owning me.

On Walking Through Life as a Postpartum Mood Disorder Survivor

I had a very interesting discussion yesterday as part of an interview with a woman who is putting together a proposal for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Both of us struggled with PP OCD and for the first time, I think we nailed it when we discussed how Postpartum becomes part of your life, even after the initial “crisis” phase passes.

You see, struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder affects your entire life. It affects how you function, how you relate to everyone and everything around you, and it ultimately changes your outlook on life. This change, this transformation, at least for me, is directly related to know just how far down I slid when it struck me from out of the blue the first time around.

Diagnosis is one of the first steps toward healing. Diagnosis leads you to help and regaining your footing on the proper path. We all walk different paths and for some of us, our diagnosis becomes our mask. For others, it becomes just one part of us. Or for others, it becomes the very definition of who we are as a person, a mother, and whatever else we are…some become the personification of a PMAD. One of the things we hit on is how women who do not define themselves completely as their diagnosis find it easier to heal because for them, it’s essentially a broken leg instead of a full body cast if that makes sense. It doesn’t take as long to heal just one part vs. the whole thing. Even then, there are always mitigating factors affecting the pace of individual healing.

When you fight back, you develop coping mechanisms to pull yourself through. These look different for everyone and depend on how defined you allow your sense of self to be by the diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. It is also important to note that these coping mechanisms may continue to be part of your life for the remainder of your days. It takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Therefore, it makes sense that if you continue something for longer than 21 days, it will become a habit. Whether this habit is healthy or not is up to you and your physician to decide. If it’s minor, no worries. But if it affects your normal day-to-day functioning, it might be time to evaluate things and consider breaking this “habit” as it isn’t healthy.

Do I still carry some of my OCD habits with me from my Postpartum days? Absolutely. But I know they are not a sign that I am still fighting the beast. They are there because they were a part of who I was for a very long time. There are still signals that speak to me and let me know that I am spiraling down the dark path once again, however. My habits tend to increase and begin to interfere with my day to day living when this happens. For instance, I will obsessively brush my hair, stop listening to music, and start looking for things to be upset about if I start to feel overly stressed. Learning to recognize these is a huge leap forward and learning to accept that little quirks you developed with Postpartum are just that, quirks, is also a huge leap forward.

Today was a huge milestone for me. I cleaned and organized the entire first floor of our town house because it needed it, not because I needed to do it. Yes, the clutter was bugging me but not to the point that it made me twitchy. To clean and not “need” to clean felt fantastic. In fact, I’m sitting here, basking more in the accomplishment of having cleaned NOT because of my OCD and because it needed it than in the fact that the downstairs (including the front closet) is completely spotless.

Our habits stay with us after Postpartum because we have immersed ourselves in them for so long as a coping mechanism. Sometimes we have thoughts that carry us back to those dark days and it is important to recognize them as such – just thoughts, not an actual fall back into the dark hole (unless they persist for more than a week or two – then you may want to seek help). Some of us may move on to a deeper, lifelong diagnosis of a daily fight against mental health. But the thing to remember is that you are YOU. You are not your diagnosis, you are not your habits. You are YOU and YOU are amazing, even when it is darkest.

Changing Your Stars

I am watching A Knight’s Tale, one of many movies I could watch several times over. As I start to write, this scene is in the background:

“He’s a real Knight, William. Watch him and learn all that you can. Now go, and change your stars!”

“But father, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid I won’t be able to find my way home.”

“Don’t be afraid William, you’ll just follow your feet.”

Life is full of changes and situations which evoke fear in our hearts. “Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway,” according to John Wayne. It is knowing not knowing what is around the bend but peeking just beyond despite this unknown, is it not?

For me, that bend was motherhood, and waiting around that bend was one an awful monster I had no desire to meet. But we came face to face anyway, the monster and I, not too long after my first daughter graced my arms. The monster, he breathed heavily in my face, the moisture from his open, drooling mouth specking my face as if it were drizzling. He growled at me as he snatched me, taking me back to his lair just beyond the edge of town.

This monster, he shoved me down a hole in the floor of his shack, a hole so deep there was no light. I crawled into a corner and wailed helplessly until I fell asleep. This monster, he fed me, when he could, but left me there to wallow and ruminate, lost forever from the world, away from my child, my partner, everything. Until one day, a hand reached into the hole and helped me out. The light, it burned. The leaves were greener than I remembered, the dew sparkled on them as the sunlight bounced off the fresh rain collected just on the surfaces of the just born foliage.

The face of my rescuer blurred into many faces for it was not just one person, it was many, working together, which brought me back to the land of the living. One of those faces was my own for I had to fight to accept the help I so desperately needed to escape from the deep dark hole under the monster’s house.

As I left the monsters house, I of course, had to follow my feet home. For me, they led me to a new place in life, some of it familiar, some of it brand new. But alas, it was the home where my heart belonged.

In A Knight’s Tale, as Oreck travels to Cheapside, he encounters a little girl to find out where his father lives. She tells him, and he discovers his father is now blind, unable to see. So he goes up to see him, telling him that he is well without identifying himself, and that he has indeed managed to change his stars. Then there is this exchange:

“Has he followed his feet? Has he found his way home at last?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Oh William! Oh my boy!”

Then, they sit, they talk, they eat, they laugh as if time has never passed. This is how it should be when a prodigal son returns. A celebration of return to self, or return to an improved self, rather.

Then the story goes dour again as the Adhemar, the knight opposing Oreck (William), exposes him as not being of noble birth. This is much like a relapse, as if the monster had hunted us down again and shoved us back in the hole.

But this time, this time he has people willing to fight with him, beside him, and most importantly, someone willing to truly change his stars. This is what I wish for all of us fighting a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder – a warrior willing to tilt full speed ahead with a lance against anything and anyone daring to rip us off our horses as we heal. This is what I work to be for all women who contact me – a fighting spirit who will not only go to bat for them but will do whatever I can to instill the same spirit within themselves.

Prince Edward then dubs Oreck, now William Thatcher, as a knight, asking him if he is fit to compete. He is, of course, and he wins against his enemy, the villainous Adhemar.

This is what those of us who fight against a mental illness want – we not only want to win our battles, but we want to be acknowledged as someone who matters. We are human, longing to be counted among those who surround us.

Every day may be a battle, every day may be exhausting, but we get up the next day, and do it all over again, hoping that today, just maybe, we will change our stars a little bit more than the day before, inching ever so much closer to the person we long to be deep inside our hearts.

Go. Change your stars. Don’t be found weighed, measured, and found wanting. Push yourself toward constantly changing your stars for the better. Defeat your monster, make him look up at you from the flat of his back after you have knocked him off his horse.

If you don’t need to change your stars, help someone else change theirs.

To you, it might just be a random act of kindness. To them? It might just change their entire life.

What Would Your Trophy Say?

“It’s psychotic. They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”

~Mr. Incredible, The Incredibles~

Ah, good old mediocrity. The goal for which everyone aimed, right?

Not really.

In the sixth grade, I completed in the school’s spelling bee. If memory serves correctly (I’m getting old and yes, there is truth to the old adage that brains stop working as well once you hit a certain age), I won the class competition which is what placed me in the school’s bee.

I won the school’s spelling bee.

Don’t ask me what word I spelled to win because I don’t remember.

I remember, however, thinking winning was kick-ass, especially because I was one of the younger kids in the school. I beat the older, (and I thought smarter), kids that day.

I did not make it past the county spelling bee, however, despite studying my ass off. The other kids there were simply better at spelling than I. (I know, completely shocking, right?)

I have the trophy stashed somewhere, probably in a box long gone, to be honest. Who knows. It is a symbol of victory, of not settling for anything but the best.

I also played soccer as a kid. Our team did not win a lot of games, we definitely did not win regionals or go to any sort of championship. At least, I don’t remember us doing so. Know what we all got at the end of the season? A tropy. For mediocrity.

That trophy, while pretty, is completely worthless. Sure, it has my name on it and is a symbol of a lot of physical exertion over a few months, but meh. There is no victory attached to it therefore it means nothing.

We do not need to reward people for mere participation. For just showing up. Awards are meant for people who go above and beyond expectations, who fight like hell to do their very best and dedicate their lives to be the very best they can be at what they do.

Trophies don’t go to people who half-ass it. At least, they shouldn’t.

I think anyone living with a mental illness who battles through their days just to survive, however, should have a damn trophy. Because that? IS HARD WORK. Getting out of bed, doing what needs to be done, making plans, living – that is damn near impossible for someone with a mental illness. Doable, but damn near impossible without an extreme exertion of energy, both physical and mental.

It is a well-practiced tango between mind and body – convincing the brain to properly control the body to do what it needs to in order to accomplish the most base tasks like eating, showering, cleaning, etc. Same days? It’s more like the hokey pokey – you put the left arm in, you take the left foot out, you do the hokey pokey and you shake it all about. If you’re lucky, you fall asleep and start all over again, praying that your mind & body are back in sync the next day.

If you created a trophy for yourself or someone you loved who struggled with a mental illness to inspire/empower them, what would it say?

Tell me down below!

I’m gonna have to give some thought to what mine would say. Stay tuned for that update!